By Jon Fortt
April 1, 2008
The iPod touch exemplifies Apple’s maturity. Image: Jon Fortt

Corporate birthdays aren’t often celebrated unless they’re multiples of five; but since Apple

is so popular and its birthday falls on April Fool’s Day, it’s easier to remember.

So today, Apple turns 32. CEO Steve Jobs is fond of recounting how the company started in his parents’ garage, a location that was an obvious homage to Hewlett-Packard

, the original Silicon Valley startup. The company has done pretty well for itself since; it can boast more than $18 billion in cash, no debt, and more than $25 billion in annual sales. Co-founder Jobs, once pushed out of the company, returned 11 years ago to save it in epic style.

It is the rare company that manages to pass out of young adulthood while maintaining its aura of cool, and it hasn’t been an easy journey. The first decade of Apple’s life defined it as a prodigy, with its high-flying IPO and Mac-fueled dreams of changing the world. Its second decade was more sobering; in its teenage years Apple fell from its lofty perch, hobbled by poor management and erratic focus. It took a third decade of young adulthood for Apple to regain its footing and prove itself worthy of its early promise as it built on the success of the iPod and iTunes, and fastidiously stockpiled cash.

What next? Apple is now working to make sure it doesn’t repeat the mistakes of its teenage years. Rather than cling to a go-it-alone strategy as it did back then, today’s Apple has reached out to Intel

for its chips, to Microsoft

for its enterprise e-mail software, and to multiple global wireless carriers including AT&T

for its iPhone service. The company is striving to maintain the artful control that made it a prodigy without falling victim to the hubris that nearly led to its demise.

And along the way, Jobs & Co. continue to spin one of the most fascinating tales in tech. Here’s to your health, Apple.

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